EDITOR’S NOTE: This report is from The Center for Public Integrity, one of the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit investigative journalism organizations. The investigation details how state supreme court judges reveal scant financial information, revealing conflicts of interest with rulings. The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is pleased to provide these stories for our readers, courtesy of The Center for Public Integrity.
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State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information: Investigation reveals conflicts despite limited disclosure
By Reity O’Brien, Kytja Weir and Chris Young,
The Center for Public Integrity
The Center for Public Integrity evaluated the disclosure rules for judges in the highest state courts nationwide. The level of disclosure in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was poor, with 43 receiving failing grades, making it difficult for the public to identify potential conflicts of interest on the bench. Despite the lack of information in the public records, the Center’s investigation found nearly three dozen conflicts, questionable gifts and entanglements among top judges around the country. Here’s what the Center found in Arizona:
Judges in Arizona file the same annual financial disclosures as other state public officials. The state requires judges to disclose all sources of household income beyond their judicial salaries. They must name the source of income and describe the services for which the judge or their family members were paid. Arizona also scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in the accountability section, since judges can face misdemeanor charges if they knowingly file false information in their financial disclosures. Those who fail to file their disclosures by the annual deadline face civil penalties of $50 a day.
While judges must report their income sources and those of their family members, they are not required to report dollar amounts, even in ranges. Nor are they required to report the amount of income they earn from investments. Arizona’s score also suffered because of poor disclosure rules about gifts. Judges must only disclose the name of the donor who provided them or a household member with gifts worth more than $500. They are not required to describe the nature of the gift or disclose its value. The state also has no requirements for judges to disclose when they are reimbursed for travel, meals or other expenses.
Arizona is one of a very few states that includes a section on its financial disclosure form for judges to report a person who owes them or a member of their household more than $1,000 during the reporting year. In this category, judges must report the value of the debt in a range, as well as specify the date when the debt began or ended. Additionally, the state requires judges to report extensive information about family businesses, but only if the business grossed more than $10,000 or accounted for more than 10 percent of the judge’s income during the reporting year.